The Millionaire's Deception

By: Wendy Byrne

“We’re going to bring down the land development company that’s determined to ruin our lives and buy up our town.”

“I thought progress was a good thing.”

“Not when it brings in strip joints and casinos.” She blew out a breath. “Seriously, have you seen one of the towns they’ve built? They’re like something out of Tackyville. Glitz and trash. And don’t get me started on the food.” When she shuddered, the reason was a mixture between his proximity and the damning effect it had on her, and the idea of losing the place she’d called home for as long as she could remember.

She’d thought about catering to increase revenue to help fund the protests, but that would mean reaching beyond Wilcox. She’d also considered selling Italian pastries at the farmers’ market on Sundays. Both were doable. She just had to find more hours in the day.

“It can’t be that bad. Besides, I thought old people liked casinos?”

“Yes to both of your questions. But that doesn’t mean we want all that nonsense in our backyard.”

“Is the company offering a fair price for the properties?”

“Two hundred thousand dollars for my place, but that’s not the point.” She huffed. At least she’d found a chink in his perfect armor. He didn’t get the concept of a sentimental connection. “Besides the fact that it’s hardly enough for me to pay off the mortgage and start over, it’s the place we call home. You can’t put a price on that.”

“Home…” His eyes narrowed a bit, but they still held that sexy glint when he shrugged. “I’m a rolling stone, so don’t put too much into the concept.”

“Where are you from?”

“Growing up, pretty much all over, but I have a place in Manhattan now.”

“New York is a far bike ride. How long did it take you?” She had to wonder what he did for a living if he could afford to take off that much time. Bank robber came to mind. Geez, she’d better check the local news just in case.

“A couple of days.”

“How much farther are you going?”

He shrugged and gave her one of those looks that said, come along and ride with me, babe. Nah, that was just in her head. Bad Ms. Francesca.

“Haven’t decided yet. Do you like to travel?”

Had he picked up on Ms. Francesca’s unconscious thoughts? She’d never been good at hiding her internal monologue. “Yes and no. I went to Italy the last semester of my senior year in college and was so homesick I could hardly stand it. Pathetic, I know, but familiarity makes me feel better.”

“You didn’t meet any hot Italian men to make you forget about missing home?” He teased as if disbelieving her confession. Not that she blamed him. It sounded a little incredulous to her as well.

“Nobody who would make me want to move halfway across the world.” She smiled. “The funny part is that I’d begged my parents to spend the semester there and regretted it from the minute my feet hit the ground. I was in Florence studying art history and every day felt like a month. Then again, maybe it was my mother’s warning about how much I’d miss home that started the whole trajectory of homesickness. I think she put the Italian mother curse on me.” She shrugged while the grin surfaced. “I wasn’t allowed to date until I was sixteen, and even then she threatened to do a reggere il moccolo on me, which in the old days meant a lighted candle was placed between the girl and the boy to prevent anything from happening.”

“Sounds kind of sweet, although I’m not sure that would have stopped a guy from making the moves on you.” He chuckled.

“Believe me, this girl didn’t see a lot of action in high school. And considering there’s only a handful of men my age still living in the area, and they’re all…well…you’ve met Dustin, didn’t you?” She couldn’t help but wonder why she was pointing out her shortcomings. One day was all he’d be here, the little voice inside her head kept repeating.

“Teenage boys aren’t the best at looking beyond the superficial. After they’ve matured they figure out the popular girls are all smoke and mirrors, and have nothing going on inside here.” He pointed to his head.

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